New tool monitors motorists' interactions with police

Dec 5, 2019

In an effort to change ticketing policies that target lower income communities, two local advocacy groups created a webpage to collect data on traffic stops in the City of Buffalo.

Credit WBFO News

An overabundance of fees related to traffic fines has led to residents in certain areas of the City of Buffalo to question the police department's ticketing policies.

The Fair Fines and Fees Coalition believes police are targeting lower income neighborhoods in an effort to extract more money from unpaid fines.

Jalonda Hill is a Paralegal at the Western New York Law Center and member of the Fair Fines and Fees Coalition.

She said motorists are being targeted in the lower-income, predominantly African American neighborhoods east of Main Street.

"The point of the tool is to collect our own data to expose any sort of racial bias," she said. "And to show any disparities in the location of where police are stopping people."

Police data on traffic stops is not made public, so the coalition and tech-oriented community group Code for Buffalo created a webpage for motorists to monitor their interactions with the police.

Code for Buffalo Designer Jonathan Hutchison said the webpage is designed to create more transparency between the police department and the communities it serves.

“The people in the community we are building the tool for believe they are being targeted by police officers,” he said. “Locally, we’re trying to push back on that sort of thing. But since the Buffalo Police Department doesn’t have that data public for us to leverage and examine ourselves, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to build a tool where people can actually give their own feedback that we can quantify and then share with the public and hopefully implement policy change.”

Jalonda Hill (far left) at a Fair Fines and Fees Coalition event in the spring.
Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

The webpage asks motorist specific questions like the date, time and reason for the stop, and also ethnicity and sexual orientation questions. Hutchison said the idea was to collect certain data and also be able to tell the story of a particular motorist’s interaction with the police.

“I think being pulled over is never really a great experience,” he said. “We’re trying to get people’s stories, whether or not they have had a horrific experience.”

With the tool being brand new, Hutchison says there is a lot of room for improvement.

“How quickly we can implement these changes is determined by the number of people that submit and the kind of feedback we get back from the community.”

The traffic stop tool can be found here.